Assuming the Worst About Iran Leaves No Peaceful Way Out

Senator Lindsey Graham is convinced the goal of Iran’s nuclear program is military, and the contrast between Graham’s certainty and the more judicious view of President Obama’s director of national intelligence highlights critical points for a peaceful resolution of the issue — or a war. A hat tip goes to Eli Clifton over at Think Progress for flagging an exchange between Sen. Graham and DNI James Clapper at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week. The bottom line of Graham’s position is that a diplomatic solution is impossible, and a military confrontation is inevitable.

Clifton’s post focuses on the key elements of the intelligence assessment. Here’s how Director Clapper described where Iranian policy stands in terms of building the bomb:

I think they’re keeping themselves in a position to make that decision but there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time.

Underneath the careful vagueness of this statement lies a crucial point. There is a clear logic for Iran to hone uranium enrichment techniques that would make it a near-nuclear power, yet still remain a non-nuclear weapon signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty — which is Tehran’s stated policy. Of course that leaves the questions of how far down the nuclear technology road Iran goes and how the outside world will verify that Iran’s nuclear activities are civilian, questions that will have to be addressed as part of any diplomatic solution.

The Iran standoff according to Sen. Lindsey Graham

Now let’s look at the logic for Sen. Graham to assume the worst about Iranian intentions. I have to presume Graham reached his conclusion through an assessment of Iranian governmental players and his information on the nuclear program. And yet … I can’t help noticing that Graham’s position fits the familiar Republican tougher-than-thou formula as most GOP foreign policy positions.

So with this view of Iranian intentions, Lindsey Graham presumably dismisses Iran’s official line about a keeping on the civilian side of the nuclear line. My question, then, is whether it’s smarter for the United States and others to toss aside Iran’s promise not to build a bomb, or hold onto that pledge as the standard by which we measure their behavior. Aside from political posturing, is it really in America’s interests to completely discount Tehran’s stated intentions?

Let’s be clear about what our alternatives are here. When I argue against assuming the worst, I’m not saying that we take Iranian statements about remaining a non-weapon state at face value. Like I said a few paragraphs ago, the point of diplomatic negotiations is to define — and verify — the parameters of Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. Indeed, the main thrust of President Obama’s policy is to keep the burden of proof squarely on the Iranians. Returning to those who assume the worst, that view is tantamount to concluding that diplomacy is pointless. So if Senator Graham and other conservatives believe Iranian leaders are determined to build the bomb, are they saying, in effect, that war is inevitable? I think so.

And this is the point of the other quotation from the national intelligence director cited in Eli Clifton’s Think Progress post, that Iran’s course is not yet set and still susceptible to diplomatic pressure:

We judge Iran’s nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran. Iranian leaders undoubtedly consider Iran’s security, prestige, and influence, as well as the international political and security environment, when making decisions about its nuclear program.

The very possibility of a peaceful solution hinges on whether you believe an Iranian n-weapon is still an open question in Tehran.

A war over uranium centrifuges?

But the issue at the heart of  a push by Senator Graham and others is a different one. To reiterate one more time, negotiations will have to pin down how far Iran will be down the nuclear technological road, i.e. the fate of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. For the hard-liners in the Senate, the only acceptable answer is that Iran must be not one step down the nuclear road — that they must walk their technical efforts all the way back. It is a Boltonesque (read delusional) approach that insists on the other side’s total capitulation.

As the clamor for war with Iran grows louder and louder, we must be clear what’s at stake. If you were paying only faint attention to this debate (as most voters probably are), you’d think it’s about keeping Iran from building nuclear weapons. But these senators have been pushing to set the bar much higher, the kind of stringent requirements that would make diplomacy impossible and war inevitable. Americans need to know the real question here: are you willing to go to war in order to stop Iran from spinning their centrifuges to enrich uranium?


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Photo credit: USG site


Lynn D.
Lynn D.4 years ago

Thanks for article, I don't think these two totally different cultures will ever get along but both cultures could learn tolerance!

Brian M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Before we commit to another expensive military adventure, we need a lot more than mere assumptions and ideology: we need good intel.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A.4 years ago

Max M. you shoot your self in the foot by calling names. It just indicates the level of intelligence and a true Zionist attitude - if some one disagrees with your ideas then they are all out of order and idiots.

Seriously saying: without the handouts from US, guilty conscience Germany and other Western nations (who deprive the basics to their own population while building apartheide walls and mansions for their Zionist friends), these Zionists will be drowning in debt or be floating dead in the sea.

ISrealis are not all the same, some fair minded people also object to injustices carried out by the atheist rulers whose ancestors have nothing to do with the Holy Lands. They have been shipped, trucked in from Russia and Eastern Europe for a few reasons:
1: They will be ruthless with the original residents of Palestine
2: When given food, housing, education, health provisions they will do anything to please their masters
3: They have white colour so other Western people can sympathise with them
These economic migrants are given everything the Palestinians are denied. All the while the ruthless rulers are milking the West's sympathies for genocides of a century old while practising the same thing against the other less powerful than them.
Shame on a country and its people who rob others resources and pretending to be the victims.

Lynn C.
Lynn C.4 years ago

This has been fed into the media for a while now. We've been taught to hate a fear these people and yet we're the ones on their borders, invading their airspace and pulling reasons out of the hat to justify this invasion. We don't spend enough on war now???

daniel casey
daniel casey4 years ago

I think we need to remember here, that North Korea actually has nuclear weapons and the U.S has not attempted an invasion of NK. Israel is the only country in the middle east that currently has nuclear weapons and the U.S doesn't seem to care about that (they probably supplied them). So what this comes down to yet again, is exenophobia and the thirst for the black gold that Iran sits on. I think that when the U.S is in a nose dive, the best thing for the government to do is give the people a common enemy, someone to take the attention off of the political system and corporate machines failings. Iran has every right to studdy, test and enrich Plutonium and Uranium, and it seems more then a little hypocritical that governments who study, have nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons would dictate who can and can not go down that road based entierly on the countries religion and ethnicity.

doug s.
Past Member 4 years ago

(cont - trying again):
i guess all the jewish organizations like "americans for peace now", "j-street", "us campaign to end the israeli occupation", "jewish woice for peace", "not in my name", etc - they're all collaborators.

i guess my niece - an israeli, born in israel of an israeli mother - she, too, is a collaborator, detained at gunpoint in ramallah by israeli soldiers, for participating in a palestinian demonstration against the illegal eviction and demolition of palestinian homes.

max, you are *so* lame...

doug s.
Past Member 4 years ago

i guess my niece - an israeli, born in israel of an israeli mother - she, too, is a collaborator, detained at gunpoint in ramallah by israeli soldiers, for participating in a palestinian demonstration against the illegal eviction and demolition of palestinian homes.

max, you are *so* lame...

doug s.
Past Member 4 years ago

sorry, i meant to say i did *NOT* come out w/any threat... :duh:

doug s.
Past Member 4 years ago

max m.,

the only thing *intelligent* people tire of is your mindless psychobabble ranting.

i did come out with *any* threat, thinly weiled, or otherwise. unlike you, i am not a narrow-minded ignorant macho twit. (you're a liberal? lol!!!) i was *not* threatening you, when i said someone is gonna come along and kick your worthless a$$. i was simply stating the inevitable results of your ignorance. some other radical religious fanatic is gonna do it, not me. you said you hate: "pontificating empty ball bag who hides behind the safety of the keyboard." *you're* the one doing, it, not me. you're so itching to get into it w/someone, you can't control yourself - you read threats into statements where there are none. sorry you must hate yourself a lot, if you really hate that type of person.

yes, i have been to israel. when i was younger, before i knew any better. now, i refuse to spend even a single penny, if i know it is going to end up there. i am all for boycotting iran. i am all for boycotting israel, too. regarding living w/terrorism, israel brings it upon itself, w/its actions. i have ZERO sympathy for it.

you use the old tired lame "collaborator" label against any jew who realizes the appalling behavior of israel regarding its treatment of moderate jews, both within and outside israel, and of palestinians. how sad. i guess all the jewish organizations like "america for peace now", "j-street", "us campaign to end the israeli occupation", "jewish w

Linda McKellar
Past Member 4 years ago

There was an interesting documentary on BBC last week about a girl with a Palestinian father and Israeli mother who lived in England. She went back to both countries to learn about her background and the "situation" there. She was discriminated against by BOTH sides in spite of her background. She was also accepted by some on both sides. She met an ex-pat American girl living in Israel who suffered injuries from not one but three bombings. Even she conceded that the Palestinians had some valid points. This from someone who lived there. She also interviewed others who were radical and full of hatred for the other side. Why can people of the same racial origin not just give up on ancient beliefs and live together. Call it Palestine, Israel or Disneyland. Who cares? Religion sucks.